As the debate about OSHA's proposed ergonomics standard continued during a hearing in Chicago, the agency's administrator told a congressional subcommittee in Washington, D.C., the "time to act is now" regarding musculoskeletal disorders.
Calling the science sound and the problem of work-related musculoskeletal disorders the most widespread occupational hazard facing the nation, OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress said that after 10 years of studying the problem, OSHA believes an ergonomics standard is needed.
Jeffress testified yesterday before the Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform and Paperwork Reduction of the House Small Business Committee.
He said OSHA's proposed ergonomics standard would prevent about 3 million work-related injuries over 10 years and save $9.1 billion each year.
The nation currently spends $15 to $20 billion each year for 600,000 injuries serious enough to cause workers to miss work.
"The human dimension of this problem is striking. This debate is about real people confronting real risks to their livelihood, health and well-being," said Jeffress.
He shared stories of workers who have suffered devastating and irreparable injuries that have stricken them both physically and financially.
On the other hand, he also pointed to companies that have found that "good ergonomics is often good economics" and saved money while reducing musculoskeletal disorders among their workers.
Many solutions to fix problem jobs, Jeffress said, are easy and inexpensive and simply employ common sense.
Jeffress stressed the efforts OSHA has made in developing the proposal to accommodate the unique needs of small business.
He outlined an outreach plan to assist smaller employers in meeting the requirements of the standard once it is adopted.
Reviewing the history of OSHA's efforts to address ergonomics, Jeffress described the agency's two-year process of consulting stakeholders and small businesses.
He pointed out numerous changes made in draft versions of the proposal in response to concerns raised by these groups.
Jeffress also noted that during its ongoing nine-week hearing on ergonomics, OSHA is giving hearing participants an opportunity to question agency staff and expert witnesses as well as other participants.
"OSHA believes it has provided sufficient time for this questioning, not all of which has been used," said Jeffress.
The public has more than eight months to provide input on the ergonomics proposal including the comment period, hearing and post hearing comment period.
Jeffress concluded that "Companies that have worked to prevent these injuries with sound ergonomics programs have often improved productivity, drastically reduced workers' compensation costs and improved job satisfaction. OSHA believes that the same opportunity for a safer workplace must be extended to other workers whose livelihoods and careers remain at risk."